This week:

  • I share more tips from an online-teaching expert on solving tricky problems of hybrid teaching.
  • We dig into the problem of students hearing one another in a hybrid classroom.
  • I point you to academic articles around hybrid teaching.

Your Questions About Hybrid Teaching Answered, Part 2

Many colleges are planning to offer hybrid courses this fall, in which some students attend a class in person while others do so virtually, as a way to mitigate the health risks of Covid-19. As I’ve noted in previous articles and newsletters, this mode of teaching is pedagogically and logistically complicated. So last week and this week, I’m sharing readers’ questions and expert advice on how to make hybrid teaching work for you.

This week, Jenae Cohn, an academic-technology specialist for the program in writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, examines the challenges of technology and active learning.

Making effective use of technology for your in-person students: “Pretty much all of the Hybrid (or HyFlex, or whatever you call it!) discussion seems to imply that in-person students will need to bring technology to log in to Zoom to interact with other students,” writes Janet Samuels, a clinical professor in the School of Accountancy at Arizona State University. “However, our undergrads are not required to have laptops or tablets, and many of my students come from a socioeconomic background where acquiring a laptop would be a burden on them.

“Do you have suggestions for engaging students in a hybrid classroom if the in-person students don’t log in to Zoom or have access to technology? How can I effectively engage the students to work on accounting problems, reviewing financial statements with each other, etc., in this situation? Additionally, if in-person students do bring in laptops and work on Zoom with other students, won’t the computer feedback from multiple laptops near each other, and noise from 15 students in the classroom working with 25 remote students, be overwhelming?

“My second question is about suggestions I’ve seen to have in-person students monitor chat or Zoom for questions from remote students. Isn’t this distracting for that in-person student? I want them focusing on what we are doing in class and not monitoring chat or responding to chat messages from remote students.”

Jenae Cohn’s response: I would definitely encourage this instructor to leverage mobile learning more with her students. Even if students are not bringing in a laptop or tablet, they most likely have a smartphone on them. (According to Educause data, the vast majority of students own mobile phones.) So, given widespread mobile adoption, students can use the Zoom app on their phones to connect with classmates who may be remote. If your students don’t have smartphones, they can also use the “dial in” feature on Zoom (this is something a lot of folks forget about!) to just connect over the phone rather than through the internet. There would need to be some clear messaging around who gets to “mute” when, though I would encourage remote students to largely just use the text chat rather than trying to engage with microphones.

To this reader’s point, feedback is going to be an issue, so when I suggested that students “partner up” with someone on Zoom, I really meant that they would do that partnering work via text chat rather than through live dialogue. I think the logistics of trying to manage multiple microphones in one space for small-group conversations would probably get noisy and complicated otherwise. This would also take more work on the instructor’s part, but if you paired up remote and in-person students, you could also create a shared, collaborative space like a Google Doc or an Etherpad shared document (i.e., an open-source alternative to Google Docs) for students to write in together in real time.

In terms of working on statements and reviewing work with one another, you might want to post course content in a place that’s mobile-friendly. So, again, if students don’t have laptops, consider posting these materials to a learning-management system, perhaps not as a PDF file, but as a text-based file in the LMS’s ‘Pages’ section, so that everyone can see the text clearly. If you must have paper handouts, you could also take pictures of the handouts on your phone and upload those files to your remote students, though bear in mind that pictures from mobile phones are not accessible for students who need to use text-to-speech applications or screen readers.

In terms of having in-person students monitoring the chat for remote students, I would encourage instructors to think about imagining the chat less as a place of “monitoring” and more as a place of interaction. I agree that no one student should be solely responsible for being the “information relay” to the instructor. Rather, an instructor could design activities that invite everyone to engage in the chat at key moments. As an instructor then, you can also have the chat stream open so that you can see the questions or responses coming in. You can also leverage the chat in Zoom to send participants to note-taking spaces, like a Google Doc, where everyone can see notes or materials from the class. Google Docs is also a really mobile-friendly app, so that could also be helpful in this situation. In other words, I would design activities where there isn’t really a ton of room for students to need to divide their attention. Rather, keep “lecture based” materials short in a hybrid format, and try to make interactive moments collective rather than divided.

How to incorporate active learning in big classes: “One thing I keep on seeing in this area is the unspoken assumption that the class size is perhaps 25-35 or so,” writes Henry Schaffer, a professor emeritus in the department of biological sciences at North Carolina State University. “So many of the activities, e.g., “ask a student in class to pair up with a remote student through a Zoom chat room” — how would that work with 70 students present and another 140 online? Seventy chat rooms followed by 70 summarizations to the class? I know that many colleges cap class size at about 35, but large ones, especially public ones, often have classes at 200+.”

Cohn’s response: This is a good point, and I agree that doing “pair share” activities, with reporting to the full group, is not really feasible with a class of 200. In that case, I would lean less on Zoom for large classes and more on participation tools that can scale better to having large groups share ideas. For example, in a large class, you might ask students to respond to a real-time poll. After students see responses to the poll, individual students can write down a follow-up reflection or response based on what they learned or gleaned from their peers. That might not be as much of a dialogue, but it’ll still be interactive. Another option would be to divide students up in advance (perhaps alphabetically?) and to give each of those alphabetic “working groups” access to a shared workspace in the learning-management system, a shared Google Drive or Box folder, or another shared note-taking space. That might be a space where small clusters of groups from a large class are invited to share notes and documents together, including, perhaps a real-time notes document that can be kept during the live class session itself. That would require a bit of organization up front, but could have some payoff in terms of building presence within a large lecture class.

Helping Students Hear One Another in a Hybrid Classroom

Last week a reader asked how to help students who attend class remotely hear what students in the classroom are saying. This is a common challenge when the classroom has only one microphone, which is usually positioned near the instructor.

Several people wrote in to suggest a low-tech solution: the professor should simply repeat the question. I asked Cohn about that. Here’s what she said:

“I’m all for simple answers, and there may be moments where simply repeating a point out loud very well could do the trick! In the context of a simple question-and-answer session, this might especially be the case. Bear in mind, however, that some students might not be willing to ask for you to repeat what a peer said, because they may feel embarrassed by needing to ask for repeated information. So, as an instructor, if you’re relying upon repeating what in-person students say to online students, you might be guessing at what needs to be repeated, which would not only slow things down, but also focus your judgment, as the instructor, on what needs to be centered from peers in the conversation.

“My advice from the first newsletter here will also help in this situation: if you design as much of your class online as possible, so that peers are largely communicating with one another via text chat, or within an online space that everyone can access, the experience is as close to equal as possible, and no student has to be in the position of feeling like they’re asking for anything additional. When online students have to go out of their way to ask for things that in-person students are experiencing, it might also amplify the feeling that will very likely already exist, that the online experience is less valuable than the in-person one. The more that instructors can design classes to make the two experiences as similar as possible, the better.

“One other note here is that if we rely upon the instructors repeating what other students say, that does not necessarily solve the problem of students needing to talk to one another and engage in sustained dialogue as peer groups. So, some of the recommendations offered from last week are also meant to help facilitate better peer-to-peer exchange, rather than simply instructor-to-peer exchange.”

Your Go-To Articles on Hybrid Teaching

Last week I shared a request from a reader who is about to embark on hybrid teaching this fall and is seeking academic articles on its delivery and effectiveness. Here are some of your responses:

Cub Kahn, hybrid coordinator for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University Ecampus, encouraged people to use the university’s searchable Online Learning Efficacy Research Database, which includes academic studies on learning outcomes of hybrid and online education compared with face-to-face education. The database houses more than 100 peer-reviewed studies about blended and hybrid learning.

Kahn also points readers to The Blended Course Design Workbook by Kathryn E. Linder, the former research director of eCampus and now executive director for program development at Kansas State University Global Campus. “This is a great resource for faculty new to designing and teaching hybrid courses,” writes Kahn. “It’s a comprehensive guide to evidence-based hybrid pedagogy, technology, and design.”

Beth Thornburg, a law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, recommendsAdaptable Design: Building Multi-Modal Content for Flexible Law School Teaching, by Agnieszka McPeak (2020). “It has a helpful framing device — even for courses currently scheduled to be taught in person, planning active-learning tools that can be done asynchronously will make a transition to an online course easier should that happen,” Thornburg writes.

Here are two articles recommended by Jenae Cohn:

Challenges of Student Equity and Engagement in a HyFlex Course, by Sebastian Binnewies and Zhe Wang (2019)

Learning style, sense of community and learning effectiveness in hybrid learning environment, by Bryan Chen and Hua-Huei Chiou (2014)

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